Saturday, August 26, 2017

Napapiirin sankarit 3 / Lapland Odyssey 3

Napapiirin sankarit 3. Trekking at Pallas. Jussi Vatanen (Janne), Timo Lavikainen (Räihänen), Heidi Lindén (Hanna), Santtu Karvonen (Kämäräinen). Photo Mikko Rasila © 2016 Yellow Film.

Napapiirin sankarit 3. Swamp football at Vuokatti. Players include Taneli Mäkelä (Timo) and Pamela Tola (Inari). Photo Mikko Rasila © 2016 Yellow Film. Do click the images to enlarge them.

Polcirkelns hjältar 3 / [Heroes of the Polar Circle 3]
    FI 2017. PC: Yellow Film & TV Oy. P: Olli Haikka, Jarkko Hentula. D: Tiina Lymi. SC: Pekko Pesonen. CIN: Teppo Högman. AD: Otso Linnalaakso. Cost: Riitta-Maria Vehman. Makeup: Laura Rantaniemi. M: Lauri Porra.
    Theme song: "Menolippu" ("One Way Ticket", comp. Hank Hunter, Jack Keller 1959, Finnish lyrics by Saukki 1965, reinterpretation by Virve Rosti in 1979, inspired by Frank Farian's international disco hit arrangement for Eruption, featuring Precious Wilson), 2017 arrangement by Pyry Pohjanpalo, original performance by Mira Luoti for this movie and its music video trailer (2017).
    S: Pekka Karjalainen. ED: Iikka Hesse.
    C: Jussi Vatanen (Janne), Pamela Tola (Inari), Timo Lavikainen (Räihänen), Santtu Karvonen (Kämäräinen), Kari Ketonen (Mikko), Heidi Lindén (Hanna), Jarkko Niemi (Ilkka), Taneli Mäkelä (Timo), Paavo Kinnunen (Kai), Kaisa Hela (Saana), Janne Kinnunen (Teemu), Jani Volanen (Kittilän runkkareiden pomo).
    Loc: Pallas and Vuokatti.
    Distributed in 4K DCP by Oy Nordisk Film Ab with Swedish subtitles (n.c.). Premiere: 23 Aug 2017.
    Viewed at Tennispalatsi Scape (premiere week), Helsinki, 26 Aug 2017.

Last year this comedy film was announced with declarations such as: "In Finland's jubilee year 2017 a saga of survival which the entire nation has been waiting for". "The first trailer of the national event movie now released". "Finland prepares to celebrate the centenary of its independence in the forthcoming year. In honour of the jubilee the screens will be hit already for the third time by a national survival saga which the entire Finland is impatiently waiting for. Hardly ever has there been such a realistic account of the tragic destinies and the gutsy character of the boys of the North in the great battles of life – not forgetting an engrossing sense of humour which touches the hearts of the entire people in the colours of white and blue."

The funny reference was to the forthcoming third film adaptation of The Unknown Soldier, about Finns in World War II, to be released in late October.

This film is the third of a comedy franchise, about a bunch of losers who in the first film, Napapiirin sankarit (2010), failed to provide the home with a DVR. In the second film (which I haven't seen) the guys are in search of a missing baby. In this third work, the male protagonist-antihero Janne (Jussi Vatanen) is in search of himself.

The protagonists live in Lapland, in the heart of one of the most popular tourist districts, the magnificent Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park. Tourism in Lapland is one of the fastest growing industries in Finland. For instance tourism from Japan and China is rapidly growing. The treks and the ski tracks are international today. Globalization is not on display in this film, but indirectly one can sense the buzz in the growing community of the tourism professionals, the impatient violence erupting in a humoristic way in fierce swamp football matches.

The impatience is incarnated in Inari (Pamela Tola), frustrated in being at home with children. The theme of young mothers' career troubles is central to the film. The approach is that of a crazy farce, but the expression of issues of injustice and discrimination is loud and clear.

The director is Tiina Lymi whose feature film debut as a director was Äkkilähtö last year, preceded by the witty short Naisen nimi (2015). Comedy of all kinds is the most difficult genre, and Lymi and her team know what they are doing. Here they are doing crazy comedy. I was even thinking about Jerry Lewis who died a week ago on Sunday. In comedy you need to take chances. You take risks. You court madness. I was also thinking about Spede Pasanen (producer, star) and Jukka Virtanen (director, screenwriter) who 50 years ago made a parody to the 50th anniversary of Finnish indepencence, Pähkähullu Suomi [Totally Mad Finland], an avalanche of tourist cliché spoofs of our land.

Finland is a nature-loving country, and in a sense we have never left the forest. An essential part of us is still there. We live increasingly in cities, but in the forest or in the wilderness we feel at home. That is also the meaning of the odyssey of Janne (Jussi Vatanen) who has lost his sense of who he is. Parodically, he is following the teachings of Paolo Coelho, but actually he is just doing what millions of us are traditionally doing anyway.

On his trek Janne is looking for a retreat for some quiet contemplation in the awesome nature of Lapland, but from the outset his odyssey is sabotaged by his best friends Räihänen (Timo Lavikainen), a body-builder, and Kämäräinen (Santtu Karvonen), equipped with a sound blaster. No Thoreau's Walden experience will be possible.

The structure of the film is a parallel montage between Inari's finally successful struggle in finding a new position in her work community and Janne's growing resignation in finding even a peace of mind.

In the first film of this series I was struck by the gravity of the theme of alienation and marginalization beyond the wild and crazy farce surface. The same goes here. The strongest performance is that of Jussi Vatanen as Janne. It is a memorable account of depression. It is balanced and highlighted by the irrepressible joy of life in his surroundings.

I saw this film on Finnish Nature Day. This film is a wild satire on our estrangement from nature. We see magnificent views of nature, but the way of life on display is contrary to any genuine feeling for nature. Issues of the ecological catastrophe are not discussed, but the general attitude is about living like there is no tomorrow. Might this be a factor in Janne's profound depression who in his profession has been observing how we turn the nature into our playground? At the end of the film he decides to quit his job and stay at home with children while Inari in her organization gets the promotion she has been fighting for.

In the 15 minutes cocktail of commecials and trailers preceding the feature the highlight was the new, second trailer for The Unknown Soldier (2017), powerfully moving (different from the first trailer released on 1 June 2017). There was also a grandiloquent Dolby Atmos announcement in which the denatured quality of the image was underlined.

The visual quality of the presentation: I was sitting in the first row in front of Finland's biggest screen, mercilessly for such a review, and the image looked great. The greens of nature are the cruellest challenge for digital cinematography, and while the greens did not always look perfect, one could find the occasionally slightly strange hues adequate for a satire of our estrangement from nature.


Monday, August 21, 2017

Jerry Lewis remembered

The Bellboy (1960), Jerry Lewis's debut as a film director, a black and white tribute to the classics of comedy.

Dave Kehr has written for The New York Times an authoritative obituary on Jerry Lewis (1926-2017), the greatest genius of post-WWII comedy, an influence on Woody Allen, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, and countless others. In Finland Jerry Lewis was big among cinephiles and film-makers from Spede Pasanen to Peter von Bagh.

He was a loose cannon, and there was a hit-and-miss quality in his movies, the best of which include Artists and Models, Hollywood or Bust, Rock-a-Bye Baby, The Ladies' Man, The Nutty Professor, Who's Minding the Store?, The Disorderly Orderly, The Patsy, and The King of Comedy.

Lewis was influenced by Harpo Marx, Al Jolson, Stan Laurel, Charles Chaplin, Fanny Brice and Harry Ritz. He was a brilliant athlete, and his expressions and gestures had an alarmingly mercurial quality. There was a sense of danger, a courage in courting madness.

Lewis's films are key visions of pop culture and the consumer society. The lunatic antics of the rubber man could abruptly switch from the brilliant to the awful. But he had direct access to the wavelengths of the infant, the madman, and the dreamer. The contortions of his body were expressions of the contortions of the soul. His movies are caricatures of the self in the modern world. And he belonged to the very greatest comedians whose performances evoke a disturbing laughter at the human condition itself.

A wonderful critical biography: Shawn Levy: King of Comedy (1996).

Robert Benayoun's six part tv series Bonjour Mr. Lewis (1982) is an amazing introduction to the Jerry Lewis archives beyond his feature films.


Jerry Lewis was the comedian of the age of extremes.

He was born into the Great Depression. His first public performance was "Brother, Can You Spare Me a Dime?" at age 5.

He came of age during Holocaust and Hiroshima. His famously shelved film project is The Day the Clown Cried, about a clown whose task is to keep children laughing on their way to the gas chamber.

His breakthrough took place during Pax Americana, the period of the greatest economic miracles in history, the golden age of the consumer society, before we became aware of the limits of growth and the ecological catastrophe.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Vingt-quatre heures de la vie d'un clown / Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Clown (2017 DCP, Institut Français, Melville 100)

24 heures de la vie d'un clown. The clown Béby and his dog at evening prayer.

24 heures de la vie d'un clown [title on screen].
    FR 1947. P+D+SC: Jean-Pierre Melville [credited as J.-P Melville]. Assistants: Carlos Viladerbo, Michel Clément. CIN: Gustave Raulet, assisté d'André Villard – 35 mm – b&w – 1,37:1 – son mono. M: Henri Cassel. ED: Monique Bonnot. Featuring: clowns Béby et Maïss, alors vedettes du cirque Medrano à Paris (Montmartre, 63 boulevard de Rochechouart, à l'angle de la rue des Martyrs). 22 min
    Court métrage documentaire. Burlesque.
    "Son titre est un clin d’œil au roman de Stefan Zweig, Vingt-quatre heures de la vie d'une femme." (Wikipédia, l'encyclopédie libre)
    Institut Français, DCP (Melville 100), with English subtitles by Victoria Britten, 19 min.
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Melville 100), 16 Aug 2017


"Before loving the cinema, I liked the circus. Of this love, I had kept a friendship: the clown Béby, who was at that time the greatest living clown, and whom I had to adore later in a short film of Bresson...
    To make my trial run, I decided to shoot a short film with him. We were in 1947 and I had Agfa film that I bought in 1942 ... We were silent and a steno scrupulously noted what Béby said in his number. But once in the auditorium, we realized that he could not read, and it had to be synchronized word by word.
– Jean-Pierre Melville, Cahiers du cinema, n ° 124, October 1961

The critic Raphaëlle Pireyre retraces the origins of Melville's first short film: "When, after the war, Jean-Pierre Melville was able to use the film he had acquired since 1942 to make his first film, he chose to make the documentary portrait Of the famous Béby clown. At the end of his career, this descendant of a large family of Italian fairgrounds no longer practices the perilous equestrian acrobatics which made his success. Forced to renounce it due to numerous accidents, it occurs in the 1940s at the Medrano Circus, in duo with the white clown Maïss. It was not on waking that the novice filmmaker chose to pick this artist he admired to spend twenty-four hours with him, but late evening, just before the curtain lowered his performance. Melville first unveils the clown by his work, as the public already knows it: on stage, in excerpts from musical numbers. By keeping him company as the needles move forward on the dial, it is as if he strives to remove successively all the layers of make-up that conceal the man under the stage makeup." (FROM FRENCH WIKIPEDIA)

AA: It is fascinating to contemplate that both Robert Bresson and Jean-Pierre Melville, of all people, started their careers with films starring the clown Béby.

The milieu of 24 heures de la vie d'un clown is next to Pigalle, the location of many French gangster movies, including Melville's. There is even La Place Lino-Ventura.

This is a film about professionalism. Béby has been a star for decades. It is a dangerous profession to be a clown, perhaps as dangerous as being a gangster. There are "sortie d'usine" scenes where Béby and Maïss leave the entertainment factory as they do every evening.

They are classic clowns. Béby is the Pierrot, Maïss the White Clown. Federico Fellini analyzed these characters at length in his masterful documentary I clowns. These archetypes keep appearing in his films, as they do for instance in Les Enfants du paradis.

There is no direct sound. A running commentary tells us a lot of what is interesting to know. After working hours we follow Béby home where we see him enjoy a dinner cooked by his wife and get an opportunity to study images and memorabilia, even his scrapbooks. There are wonderful books signed with autographs. We see a photo montage covering Béby's career. In the evening Béby reads his evening prayer, as does his dog. His wife brings his morning coffee to bed.

About Maïss we are told that until 1905 he used to be a doctor at the opera.

The circus routines are fun to watch.

The talent for observation is already evident in Melville's first film. Now I believe I have seen all his films.

A good digital transfer of a film with impressive and challenging cinematography. There are many night scenes.

Mysterious Skin (opening of our 30th anniversary tribute to Love & Anarchy, the Helsinki International Film Festival)

Mysterious Skin. Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Mysterious Skin / Mysterious Skin. US/NL © 2004 Mysterious Films, LLC. PC: Fortissimo Films presents an Antidote Films / Desperate Pictures production. P: Mary Jane Skalski, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Gregg Araki. D+SC+ED: Gregg Araki – based on the novel (1995) by Scott Heim. CIN: Steven Gainer. AD: Morgan C. Blackledge. Set dec: Erin K. Smith. VFX: Mark Driscoll, Henrik Fett, Look Effects. SFX: David Waine. Cost: Alix Hester. Makeup: Fleur Morell. Hair: Michelle Elam Torres. M: Harold Budd, Robin Guthrie. S: Trip Brock. Casting: Shannon Makhanian.
    Soundtrack listing: "Golden Hair" – Slowdive (Syd Barrett)
"Galaxy" – Curve
"Game Show" – Dag Gabrielsen, Bill Campbell, Nelson Foltz, Robert Roe
"Catch the Breeze" – Slowdive
"Crushed" – Cocteau Twins
"Dagger" – Slowdive
"I Guess I Fell in Love Last Night" – Dag Gabrielsen, Alex Lacamoire
"I Could Do Without Her" – Dag Gabrielsen, Alex Lacamoire
"Drive Blind" – Ride
"O Come All Ye Faithful" and
"Away in a Manger" – Tom Meredith, Cydney Neal, Arlo Levin, Isaiah Teofilo
"Silent Night" – Tom Meredith, Cydney Neal, Arlo Levin, Isaiah Teofilo, Evan Rachel Wood, John Mason
"Samskeyti" – Sigur Rós
"Blue Skied an' Clear" – Slowdive
    C: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Neil McCormick), Chase Ellison (young Neil McCormick), Brady Corbet (Brian Lackey), George Webster (young Brian Lackey), Michelle Trachtenberg (Wendy), Riley McGuire (young Wendy), Jeff Licon (Eric Preston), Mary Lynn Rajdkub (Avalyn Friesen), Elisabeth Shue (Ellen McCormick), Bill Sage (the coach), Lisa Long (Mrs. Lackey), Chris Mulkey (Mr. Lackey), Richard Riehle (Charlie), Kelly Kruger (Deborah), Rachael Nastassja Kraft (young Deborah), Billy Drago (Zeke).
    Loc: Los Angeles, New York City.
    Telecast: 1.5.2007 Subtv (R&A) – dvd: 2007 – VET: K18 – 105 min
    Introduced by Pekka Lanerva (director of Love & Anarchy), and Lauri Lehtinen and Kalle Kinnunen (authors of the 30th Anniversary book of Love & Anarchy, published at Orion earlier today).
    A Triangelfilm release print with Swedish subtitles by Gertrud Rees viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (30th Anniversary of Love & Anarchy, Helsinki International Film Festival), 16 Aug 2017

Preview: the trailer of the 30th edition of Love & Anarchy, premiered today. "Tehkaa perässä" ["Follow Suit"], with the popular singer Chisu and Jörn Donner, the perpetuum mobile of Finnish culture (and co-founder of the Finnish Film Archive 60 years ago), in hommage to Pulp Fiction, the "You Never Can Tell" dance scene with Uma Thurman and John Travolta. Itself an hommage to the madison scene in Jean-Luc Godard's Bande à part with Anna Karina, Claude Brasseur, and Sami Frey. Not forgetting Chuck Berry (1926–2017).

Mysterious Skin is a work of maturity from Gregg Araki, who was in the 1990s the wild guy of the New Queer Cinema. There is more depth of character, feeling in the relationships and a richer scale of humour than in his blatantly raw films such as Doom Generation.

A psychological detective story into the origins of forgotten traumas, unrelenting nightmares, "missing time" and regression. The paranoid imagination appears as imagined visits of UFOs and aliens from outer space.

The life of gay hustlers is unflinchingly portrayed. New York appears as a harsh and brutal experience in comparison with the familiar domestic circumstances. From New York Neil returns home violently raped and badly bruised. First then he is confronted by the nightmare-ridden Brian who "wants to dream about something else for a change".

A brilliant print.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Varastettu kuolema director's cut / Stolen Death (2017 KAVI reconstruction in 4K)

Varastettu kuolema. Ralph Enckell and Tuulikki Paananen.

Varastettu kuolema. Elokuva-aitta 17/1939. On display the Lewis gun (Mark I).

    Den stulna döden.
    FI 1938. PC: Erik Blomberg Oy. P: Erik Blomberg. D: Nyrki Tapiovaara. SC: Eino Mäkinen, Erik Blomberg – dialogue: Matti Kurjensaari – based on the short story "Köttkvarn" (1919) by Runar Schildt. Cin+photography: Olavi Gunnari, Erik Blomberg. Camera assistent: Reino Lammila. AD: Kille Oksanen, Ilmari Tapiovaara – assistent: Hans Brücker – lavastemies: Paavo Kuoppala. Makeup: Rakel Linnanheimo. Hair: Senja Soitso. M: George de Godzinsky. ED: Erik Blomberg, Nyrki Tapiovaara. S: Lauri Pulkkila. Järjestäjä: B. Joni.
    C: Tuulikki Paananen (Manja), Ralph Enckell (as Ilmari Mänty) (Robert Hedman), Santeri Karilo (Jonni Claesson, the arms dealer), Annie Mörk (Matami Johansson), Bertha Lindberg (Robert's mother), Hertta Leistén (aunt), Ahti H. Einola (as Gabriel Tossu) (shoemaker), Jalmari Parikka (prison guard), Aku Peltonen (the doorman at Kappeli), Aatos Konst, Viljo Kervinen, Paavo Kuoppala ja Yrjö Salminen (Robert's comrades), Kusti Laitinen (gendarme officer), Emil Kokkonen (soldier), Lida Salin (the lady about to move), Lars Eric Carpelan, Matti Kurjensaari, Arne Runeberg, Ilmari Tapiovaara (pallbearers), Nyrki Tapiovaara (train conductor), Erik Blomberg (shop assistant), Maija Nuutinen (woman), Ilmari Paukku.
    Helsinki premiere: 4.3.1938 Rex, released by Adams Filmi – telecast: 14.3.1964 MTV1, 18.2.1971 MTV2, 13.5.1987, 30.10.1987 YLE TV1, 13.9.1990, 15.9.1995 YLE TV2 – VET A–989 – K16 – 2750 m / 100 min – re-release print (1954) 90 min
    Director's cut reconstructed at KAVI (2017) in 4K at 102 min.
    Introduced by Erkka Blomberg, son of Erik Blomberg.
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Finland 100, Masters of Finnish Cinematography), 15 Aug 2017

Stolen Death, the title of the film, refers to the coffin used by the "pallbearers" to smuggle a machine gun. The title "Köttkvarn" ["The Mincer"] of the short story on which the film is based refers to the machine gun. On display in the film is a Lewis gun, make: Mark I, a light machine gun designed in the US and perfected in Birmingham, GB, during WWI, so there is an anachronism for a story about Finnish freedom activists anno 1904.
    Ralph Enckell (1913–2001) became a top diplomat. He was Finland's UN Ambassador in 1959–1965 during the most dangerous years of the Cold War. His successor was Max Jakobson.
    Tuulikki Paananen (1915–1974) had true star charisma. Her mother was an American from Michigan. Paananen was a citizen of the U.S. and graduated from Hollywood High School. A trained dancer, she appeared uncredited in Hollywood dance scenes. She re-learned Finnish for a high profile film career in Finland in the 1930s. In 1939 her visa was not renewed, and she had to return to the U.S., but during WWII she focused on work to help Finland. Her attempt at a Hollywood career resulted mainly in the eighth-billed role of Consuelo Contreras in Jacques Tourneur's The Leopard Man (see image below). She established dance studios in California and Hawaii where she died of breast cancer. Her ashes were spread on Waikiki Beach.
    Nyrki Tapiovaara (1911–1940) was Finland's leading avantgardistic film director. He died in the frontline in the Winter War.
    Erik Blomberg (1913–1996) was one of the most prominent independent film producers in Finland, also a director and master cinematographer.

Stolen Death is the most important work of the Finnish film avantgarde before WWII.

Finnish freedom activists are mobilizing on the eve of the 1905 Russian Revolution. They have a secret printing press and they are even acquiring weapons for the imminent struggle. Gendarmes, Cossacks, spies, traitors, and double agents are everywhere.

This independent movie was produced on a small budget (250.000 Euro in current money) largely in pro bono spirit. It looks different but it does not look cheap. What was lacking in resources was compensated in panache.

The avantgardistic impulse is on display in the striking cinematography and montage sequences the likes of which had been seen only in certain films by Valentin Vaala, Teuvo Tulio, and Aho & Soldan (and perhaps Kalle Kaarna).

The film does not stray impossibly far from mainstream expectations. There is suspense, there are thrilling chase sequences, and there is a stirring romantic angle thanks to the genuine star charisma of Tuulikki Paananen. Ralph Enckell is an amateur but one can get used to his stiff presence. In his own way he is reliable hero material. Annie Mörk is colourful as the shady Madame Johansson. The versatile Santeri Karilo is effective as the dubious arms smuggler and blackmailer.

Since 1954 we have been seeing only a truncated 90 minute cut of this 102 minute film. This year we have reconstructed the complete version in collaboration with Erkka Blomberg, the son of the producer.

For decades we have been watching Stolen Death benevolently, ignoring the choppy going of the truncated version. The reinstated passages reveal nothing new in terms of story and theme. But the film is much fuller and richer thanks to this footage. It enriches characters, mood, milieu, and atmosphere. Stolen Death is a much more gratifying experience thanks to the reconstruction.

A wonderful rediscovery of a powerfully visual movie. An important reconstruction perhaps with room for some extra polishing.

Varastettu kuolema. Nyrki Tapiovaara directs Tuulikki Paananen.

The Leopard Man produced by Val Lewton and directed by Jacques Tourneur. Tuulikki Paananen (as Tula Parma) in the role of Consuelo Contreras, the second victim, the one with a date at the graveyard.


Elizabeth (1998)

Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen [closing credits title]
Elisabet / Elisabeth / Elizabeth [Swedish title]
    GB © 1998 PolyGram Filmed Entertainment. PC: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment presents – Working Title Films – in association with Channel Four Films.P : Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Alison Owen. D: Shekhar Kapur. SC: Michael Hirst. CIN: Remi Adelfarasin – negative ratio 1,37:1 – screening ratio 1,85:1. PD: John Myhre. AD: Jonathan Lee. Set dec: Peter Howitt. SFX: George Gibbs. VFX: Peter Chiang. Cost: Alexandra Byrne. Makeup, hair: Jenny Shircore. M: David Hirschfelder. S: Mark Auguste. ED: Jill Bilcock. Casting: Simone Pereira Hind (as Simone Ireland), Vanessa Pereira.
    C: Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth I of England), Geoffrey Rush (Francis Walshingham), Joseph Fiennes (Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester), Richard Attenborough (William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley), Christopher Eccleston (Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk), Kathy Burke (Mary I of England), Fanny Ardant (Mary of Guise), Vincent Cassel (Henry, Duc d’Anjou), Emily Mortimer (Kat Ashley), Kelly Macdonald (Isabel Knollys), John Gielgud (Pope Pius V), Daniel Craig (John Ballard), James Frain (Álvaro de la Quadra), Edward Hardwicke (Henry FitzAlan, 19th Earl of Arundel), Jamie Foreman (Earl of Sussex), Terence Rigby (Bishop Stephen Gardiner), Angus Deayton (Waad, Chancellor of the Exchequer), Amanda Ryan (Lettice Howard), Kenny Doughty (Sir Thomas Elyot), George Yiasoumi (Philip II of Spain), Wayne Sleep (dance tutor), Alfie Allen (Arundel’s son), Lily Allen (lady-in-waiting)
    Loc: Bamburgh Castle, Alnwick Castle, Aydon Castle, Warkworth Castle (Northumberland), York Minster, Bolton Castle (North Yorkshire), Durham Cathedral, Raby Castle (County Durham), Haddon Hall (Derbyshire), Leeds Castle (Kent), Middle Temple (Holborn).
    Helsinki premiere: 19.3.1999 Tennispalatsi, distributor: Scanbox, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Stan Saanila – tv: 9.11.2002 Nelonen, etc. (MTV3, TV5) – vhs: 2000 Scanbox – VET 101179 – K14 – 3395 m / 124 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Cate Blanchett / Helsinki Festival), 15 Aug 2017

This version of the life of Elizabeth I of England (1533–1603) emerges from the conventional territory of the prestige film, the costume film, and the heritage film, but the Indian director Shekhar Kapur casts a foreign look into a familiar story of historical tragedy. Michael Hirst's original screenplay takes considerable liberties. The film is only very freely based on history.

The predecessors are formidable. Sarah Bernhardt's Les Amours de la Reine Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth, 1912) was the film that launched the feature film as the commercial success format in the U.S. thanks to its American distributor, the Famous Players. Lou Tellegen was cast as Essex in that adaptation of a play by Émile Moreau.

Bette Davis and Errol Flynn starred in Michael Curtiz's tragic masterpiece The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Warner Bros., 1939) based on Maxwell Anderson's success play.

These legendary adaptations may have been the first high profile films to highlight a love affair between a woman and a much younger man, the age difference of Elizabeth and Essex being 30 years.

Shekhar Kapur and Michael Hirst's Elizabeth story has also a love angle, this time of the young Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, here portrayed as a treacherous man both privately and politically.

The young Elizabeth is cast into a wolf pack of violent intriguers. She learns not to trust anyone, and to everybody's surprise she survives and emerges victorious.

This year we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and Elizabeth is also a brutally violent account of the English Reformation. Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII, had introduced Reformation, cut his ties with the Pope, and launched the Anglican Church. Queen Mary reintroduced Catholicism, and the film starts with Protestants burned at the stake. Elizabeth, a Protestant, will need to reverse this.

The French House of Guise, to carry a central role in the Huguenot Wars which started soon after the events of this movie, features prominently. Mary of Guise (a memorable Fanny Ardant) is Queen of Scots (and the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots). The House of Guise played a key part in St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (1572); the assassination of the Duke of Guise took place in 1588; both subjects are central in the history of the cinema.

Let's also remember that the events of the Spanish Inquisition in Friedrich Schiller's play and Giuseppe Verdi's opera Don Carlos take place at the same time (1560). Ivan the Terrible reigned in Russia. The king of Sweden and Finland was Gustaf Vasa who introduced Reformation to the North. A time of violent terror everywhere.

We are screening this international breakthrough film of Cate Blanchett together with the Helsinki Festival in the context of the Finnish premiere of Julian Rosefeldt's Manifesto (2015), a display of Cate Blanchett as a "woman with a thousand faces".

But even in this breakthrough film of hers she already displays a thousand faces. From the sincere and carefree young woman she turns into a self-willed and steel-nerved "Virgin Queen" with a shock mask of white lead and cropped hair. There are aspects of the monster and the clown in her final look. There is no private life anymore. She is now married to England.

Against the competition of the likes of Sarah Bernhardt and Bette Davis, Cate Blanchett creates an unforgettable, personal and original performance.

Among the most memorable scenes are the ones where Elizabeth exercises giving a speech in a Queenly manner. These scenes are for me the anthology pieces of the movie. These moments, as well as the line of dialogue about "not being afraid of one's own shadow", and the performance of Geoffrey Rush as advisor to the monarch make me ponder whether David Seidler might have been inspired by this movie for his screenplay to The King's Speech (2010).

A brilliant print of a movie with a dark and ambitious concept of cinematography by Remi Adelfarasin.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Tarinoiden Suomi / Stories from Finland

FI © 2017 Inland Film Company Oy. P+D+SC+CIN+ED: Jussi Oroza. Creative P: Iikka Vehkalahti. Photographer: Saara Mansikkamäki. M: Antti Nordin. Lyrics: Sibone Oroza. Musicians: Antti Nordin, Boris Nordin, Sibone Oroza, Franka Oroza, Mikko Helenius, Mauri Saarikoski, Elsa Sihvola, Lassi Kari. Theme songs sung by: Sibone Oroza, Franka Oroza. "Lei" by Abdigani Hussein. Assistant ED: Ulrika Enckell. Sound ED+end credits: Benjamin Oroza.
    Tarinateltta team 2008–2012: original idea, D+interviews by Benjamin Oroza, interviewers Ismo Leinonen, Aija Salovaara, Janne Kari, Sami Laitinen.
    A documentary featuring: Göran Palmqvist, Tuuli Manninen, Otto Köngäs, Pentti Ahlroot, Iida Reini, Göran Tornberg, T. Seppänen, Mauno Ranto, Minna Rimpilä, Janne Hakkarainen, Oiva Vallius, Lassi, Elias and Erik (the boys), Martti Kinnunen, Viljo Liukkonen, Jussi Kleemola, Vilho Kuusela, Riitta Palomäki, Soili Mantila, Paula Malinen, Johanna Broman, Markku Tuomikorpi, Hilkka Malm, Shahnaz Mikkonen, Metin Sahinler, Sakke (Peloton), Abdigani Hussein "Kani" (the rapper), Tapani Hyrkäs, Riitta Excell, Synnove Excell, Marta Vera Ortiz, Päivi Kuusela, Jussi Kuokkanen
    Digital, no subtitles, premiere 11 August 2017, 84 min
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 3, on 12 August 2017

In our age spellbound by social media people are increasingly living in virtual bubbles where they can always look at the bright side of life and present only happy and beautiful aspects of themselves.

On the other hand everyone has a fundamental need to be seen as she or he actually is. Which is why the phenomenon of digital depression is becoming more widespread.

Based on the Tarinateltta (Story Tent) television project that ran in 2008–2012, the feature-length documentary Stories from Finland is a montage of some 35 talking heads intercut with associative, conceptual, and poetic imagery and aerial photography from all over the country. There are also beautiful montages of faces.

The project is relevant to the reality television syndrome, but the approach is not to cash in sensation or triviality.

Stories from Finland is a mosaic of vignettes with ordinary and extraordinary tales. It covers all of Finland, and chronologically the stories date from the 1930s to the present day.

We hear happy stories of love. There is a female vignette that resembles Before Sunrise. A male narrator met Day Tripper and never recovered. We hear about the first kiss, a life-long love, a shotgun wedding, and a marriage that has lasted 42 years.

Wartime memories extend to Kauhajoki during the Winter War. When there was an air raid alarm, everybody was covered in white sheets (in snow camouflage), the MPs and the patients of mental hospitals alike.

The ultra-militaristic education of the 1930s, rarely mentioned after 1944, is evoked here. Even a 13 year old boy was equipped with a gun.

We meet children from homes that were broken after WWII, and orphans. "I have never had a home". "It is difficult to display feelings". There was abuse at home. When father left the family with another woman, the children had to become beggars. Orphanages could be harsh.

We meet a man who estimates that he must have been one of the last huutolainen, children for auction. Homeless children could be acquired by the family who made the cheapest bid at the auction. The children were treated worse than slaves or animals. The master of the house could hit the child at will. But one day the boy came home and found the kitchen floor covered in blood. The master had slashed his throat.

We hear stories about life on resettlement farms established for evacuees from Eastern Karelia after WWII. Families were huge with 12 children or more. People had nothing, but they "cared for each other more". "Kamara oli enemmän hoitava", "the fundament was more nurturing". "Joy and sorrow felt like something then".

School bullying was brutal. A man reminisces this in lurid detail. The chief education officer, however, learned about it. He was a war veteran. The bullies were invited into his office one by one. They returned crying out loud. The bullying stopped then and there.

We meet a black boy who tells about his years as a juvenile delinquent. His family sent him to Africa for one year. He visited a Quran school and witnessed a lynching at age 12: an apparently innocent man was burned alive. His eyes were opened.

We meet immigrants to Finland. "Loneliness is very hard to handle". A woman born in Taiwan observes that it took her 14 years to feel at home in Finland.

Travelling to the North, the land of the Northern Lights, we meet a gold-digger who reveals his feeling for the nature.

We meet a couple who has been wed according to an ancient, pre-Christian shaman wedding in Kalevala style.

We meet a senior lady who had a happy near death experience at the opera during a marvellous mezzo soprano's performance of Rossini's Stabat mater. "And then the damn heart started to beat again".

This series of vignettes resembles a collection of very short stories. They are not random, but they do not grow into a whole either, and that would be impossible.

The people, their faces, and their stories are eloquent. There are stories in this movie that I'm likely never to forget.

Among the original songs of the movie is the beautiful theme song "Kertoisin sinulle tarinan" ["I'd Like to Tell You a Story"] composed by Antti Nordin with lyrics by Sibone Oroza and sung by Franka Oroza.

The interviewees are not identified in the movie. The shooting locations of the Story Tent are fascinating.

The visual concept is based on a contrast of close-ups of faces and magnificent aerial views made possible by drone cinematography. The definition is often low as is expected in this kind of documentary.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Hail, Caesar! (4K projection)

Hail, Caesar! Please click to enlarge.

Hail, Caesar! / Hail, Caesar! / Ave, Cesare! / Χαίρε, Καίσαρ! / Ave, César! / ¡Salve, César! / Да здравствует Цезарь!
    US © 2016 Universal Studios. PC: Mike Zoss Productions, Working Title Films – presented in association with Dentsu. P: Tim Bevan, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Eric Fellner. EX: Robert Graf. D: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen. SC: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen. Cin: Roger Deakins – negative: 35 mm – colour – 1:1,85 – master format: digital intermediate 4K (EFILM). PD: Jess Gonchor. AD: Cara Brower, Dawn Swiderski. Set dec: Nancy Haigh. Cost: Mary Zophres. Makeup: Jean Ann Black (as Jean Black). Hair: Cydney Cornell. SFX: Steve Cremin. VFX: Dan Schrecker, Dan Levitan. M: Carter Burwell. Song credit listing beyond the jump break. Includes several tracks performed by the Red Army Choir. S: Craig Berkey. ED: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen (as Roderick Jaynes). Casting: Ellen Chenoweth.
    C: Josh Brolin (Eddie Mannix), George Clooney (Baird Whitlock), Alden Ehrenreich (Hobie Doyle), Ralph Fiennes (Laurence Laurentz), Scarlett Johansson (DeeAnna Moran), Tilda Swinton (Thora Thacker and Thessaly Thacker), Channing Tatum (Burt Gurney), Frances McDormand (C. C. Calhoun), Jonah Hill (Joe Silverman), Veronica Osorio (Carlotta Valdez), Heather Goldenhersh (Natalie, Mannix's secretary), Alison Pill (Mrs. Mannix), Max Baker (head communist writer), John Bluthal (Professor Marcuse), Christopher Lambert (Arne Seslum), Natasha Bassett (Gloria DeLamour), Dolph Lundgren (submarine commander), the Aqualillies (the synchronized swimmers).
    See also the cast of characters as edited in Wikipedia, copied after the jump break.
    Loc: Warner Bros. Burbank Studios, Los Angeles Theatre, Union Station (Downtown L.A.), Good Luck Bar (Hillhurst Ave.), Bronson Caves (Griffith Park), Pelican Cove Park (Palos Verdes), Craven Estate (Pasadena), First Congregational Church (Commonwealth Avenue), Whitley Terrace, Walker Residence (Carmel-by-the-Sea), Sony Pictures Studios (Culver City), 635 South Mateo Street, Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park (Agua Dulce, CA), Big Sky Ranch (Simi Valley), Harvey Apartments (Santa Monica Boulevard).
    Helsinki premiere: 4.3.2016 Tennispalatsi, distributed by: Finnkino Oy, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Janne Mökkönen / Markus Karjalainen – MEKU: K7 – 4K DCP – 106 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (the Coen Bros.), 11 August 2017

I belong to the ones who may have been suffering from Coen fatigue which is why I have missed their two latest films on their first run and discovered them first in our retrospective this summer. It turns out that like in Inside Llewyn Davis, the brothers are at their best in Hail, Caesar!

Both are accurate accounts of specific moments in American cultural history. In Inside Llewyn Davis we are in Greenwich Village anno 1961, in Hail, Caesar! in Hollywood exactly ten years earlier.

The two films have little in common. Llewyn Davis is the portrait of a loser, "King Midas's idiot brother" in whose hands everything turns into the opposite of gold. Hail, Caesar! is the portrait of a Hollywood fixer who can find the solution to the most improbable calamity.

The star (George Clooney) of Hollywood's most expensive blockbuster is kidnapped by communists and converts to communism himself. The studio's idolized bathing beauty (Scarlett Johansson) is single and pregnant. The leading actor of a sophisticated comedy is a rodeo star (Alden Ehrenreich) who can't act. The two leading gossip columnists (both played by Tilda Swinton) know the backstory of the dandyish star director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). The musical star Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) defects to the USSR on a submarine whose commander is played by Dolph Lundgren.

All this Mannix (Josh Brolin) can fix. But he is also being seduced by Lockheed to a highly paid top executive job that has nothing in common with the Hollywood madhouse. During the picture the Catholic Mannix goes to a confession every night, and is seduced by Lockheed every day. In the finale he sees the light.

At every step there are references to the actual Hollywood scene. Eddie Mannix really existed, although he was not at all like this (the relationship is like between Llewyn Davis and Dave Van Ronk). The Hail, Caesar! film project resembles Quo vadis?, The Robe, The Ten Commandments, and Ben-Hur. The performances are not parodies but parallel creations inspired by real personalities which include Clooney doing Charlton Heston, while Channing Tatum is at Gene Kelly, Scarlett Johansson at Esther Williams, and Ralph Fiennes at George Cukor. Tilda Swinton gets to do parallel figures as both Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. One of my favourites is Frances McDormand as the studio's wizard editor, based on Margaret Booth.

The spoof scenes are delightful and original, different from the spoofs we have been used to seeing over the decades.

The Coen fatigue that some of us have been experiencing may have emerged because we have become jaded with the expectation that all the time the Coens will shock us and subvert everything. One can get tired with shocks.

The Coens are no less subversive now, but they feel no need for the shocking twist all the time. The deeper current that has been with them since Blood Simple. flows even more confidently now. They have an original Weltanschauung, a sense of the absurd that can be compared with the Book of Job, Gogol, Kafka, and Beckett but is personal and unique to them.

The bite of the existential Angst has not vanished, but there is a broader sense of life around. The sense of humour is not monotonously bitter like in Barton Fink, their previous dark Hollywood satire. The sense of humour is on a new level, more refined, and the satire is more sophisticated. Lubitsch might have enjoyed this.

Among the surprises is the protagonist, the studio boss Eddie Mannix, who emerges as a positive figure. He is a new kind of character in the Coen world: a straight guy against the madness of Hollywood. The madness that both he and the Coens love.

Another surprise is the attitude to religion and Christianity. The film is a parody of the making of a Biblical epic. Many details are again based on reality, including the meeting of theological authorities of all Abrahamic monoteistic religions. The feature that the face of the Christ is not shown was the practice of the decade. The undercurrent of this parody is an unexpected appearance of spirituality and transcendence.

The production values are solid, and the look is glamorous and expensive. The film was again shot on 35 mm, like Inside Llewyn Davis. The digital intermediate was conducted in 4K, and the 4K DCP looks supernaturally sharp and unreal on the screen.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Mansfield Park (1999)

Patricia Rozema: Mansfield Park (GB 1999), based on the novel (1814) by Jane Austen. Frances O'Connor as Fanny Price, turned in Rozema's screenplay into the voice of Jane Austen. For the first time in the cinema, Rozema tried to solve the dilemma of conveying Austen's free indirect speech in a film adaptation.

Kasvattitytön tarina / Mansfield Park [Swedish title].
    GB © 1999 Miramax HAL Films. PC: HAL Films, Miramax Films, BBC, The Arts Council of England, BBC Films. P: Sarah Curtis. D+SC: Patricia Rozema – based on the novel (1814) by Jane Austen, translated into Finnish by A. R. Koskimies / Karisto (1954). DP: Michael Coulter – negative: 35 mm (Kodak) – lab: DeLuxe – colour – 1,85:1. PD: Christopher Hobbs. AD: Andrew Munro. Set dec: Patricia Edwards. Makeup: Veronica McAleer (as Veronica Brebner). Cost: Andrea Galer. VFX: Drew Jones (CFC). M: Lesley Barber. S: Glenn Freemantle. ED: Martin Walsh.
    C: Frances O’Connor (Fanny Price), Jonny Lee Miller (Edmund Bertram), James Purefoy (Thomas Bertram, Jr., Tom), Embeth Davidtz (Mary Crawford), Alessandro Nivola (Henry Crawford), Harold Pinter (Sir Thomas Bertram), Lindsay Duncan (Lady Bertram / Mrs. Price), Victoria Hamilton (Maria Bertram), Justine Waddell (Julia Bertram), Hugh Bonneville (Mr. Rushworth), Sheila Gish (Mrs. Norris), Charles Edwards (Mr. Yates), Sophia Myles (Susan Price), Anna Popplewell (Betsey), Hannah Taylor-Gordon (the young Fanny).
    Loc: Kirby Hall (Northamptonshire), Cornwall, Eton College (Berkshire), Fenton House, Kenwood House (Hampstead, London), Lulworth Cove (Dorset), Osterley Park House (Middlesex), Portsmouth (Hampshire).
    Telecast in Finland 13.4.2004 MTV3 – VET V-04641 – S, recommended rating 10 –  112 min
    A print with Norwegian subtitles by Harald Ohrvik viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jane Austen, Bicentennial of Death), 10 Aug 2017

Patricia Rozema announced that Mansfield Park is "not a Jane Austen film. ... It's a Patricia Rozema film. My job as an artist is to provide a fresh view". "Whenever you turn a novel into a movie, you're changing form. ... I felt fairly free to make changes as long as I felt I could face Austen if I met her".

Mansfield Park was a straggler to the remarkable 1995–1996 cycle of Jane Austen television and film adaptations when Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma were filmed almost simultaneously, Emma even twice.

All Jane Austen adaptations face the challenge of the free indirect speech, the unique address in the heart of Austen's art. All previous adaptations gave it up because it would have required the use of a narrator. Only Patricia Rozema solved this problem. In Mansfield Park she turned Fanny into a writer. She created a new character based less on Fanny Price than Jane Austen, herself.

I have not read Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, her third published novel, and I trust here on what sources say about the novel. Most illuminating has been Kathi Groenendyk's essay "Modernizing Mansfield Park: Patricia Rozema's Spin on Jane Austen" (JASNA, Winter 2004).

It seems that Patricia Rozema's film is Austenesque while not a faithful interpretation of the novel. She does justice to Jane Austen's voice and views but not to her concept and characters of Mansfield Park.

I find the development of the relationship between Fanny Price (Frances O’Connor) and Edmund Bertram (Jonny Lee Miller) very moving. It is an account of love as a journey of exploration, an exploration to the deepest fountains of oneself, and of the other. A journey of a definition and revelation of the self and the other. A journey of widening one's horizon together with the other.

Besides, more than other Jane Austen adapters Patricia Rozema puts an emphasis on tenderness between women.

The funniest line of dialogue in the movie is when Fanny's long-suffering mother says to her daughter that there is no shame in wealth and that "I married for love". But the shame in wealth is an issue in Rozema's adaptation.

The issue of West Indies slavery as the source that pays for the party is briefly mentioned in Jane Austen's novel. Slave trade had been abolished in Britain in 1807 but not slavery itself. Austen was an abolitionist. Edward Said highlighted the issue in Culture and Imperialism (1993). Harold Bloom, the great Jane Austen champion, has since been fed up with the over-interpretation of the slavery angle in Austen studies.

Patricia Rozema wrote her film from the Edward Said angle. In the beginning we hear cries from a slave ship on the coast of England (slave ships did not come to England). Tom (Thomas Beacham, Jr.) is seen as a victim of a traumatic shock having witnessed slavery in Antigua. Fanny, too, is shocked when she discovers Tom's collection of pornographic paintings and drawings on violence and rapes of slaves, also featuring his father, Sir Thomas (Harold Pinter). The original theme music to the end credits is Lesley Barber and Salif Keita's "Djonga" / "Slavery".

One might see Patricia Rozema's slavery angle in Mansfield Park as a corrective to the entire cycle of Jane Austen films, heritage films, and Regency Era films.

A brilliant, clean, and complete print.


Wednesday, August 09, 2017

La strada / The Road

La strada. Giulietta Masina (Gelsomina), Anthony Quinn (Zampanò). "Sans doute dira-t-on que seul le cinéma pouvait par exemple conférer à l'extraordinaire roulotte motocycliste de Zampanò la force de mythe concret auquel atteint ici cet objet insolite et banal tout à fois" (André Bazin).

Tie / Vägen.
    IT 1954. PC: Ponti–De Laurentiis Cinematografica. P: Dino De Laurentiis, Carlo Ponti. D: Federico Fellini. SC: Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano. DP: Otello Martelli – b&w – 1,37:1. PD: Mario Ravasco. AD: Enrico Cervelli, Brunello Rondi. Cost: Margherita Marinari. M: Nino Rota. S: R. Boggio, Aldo Calpini. ED: Leo Catozzo.
    C: Giulietta Masina (Gelsomina), Anthony Quinn (Zampanò), Richard Basehart (Il Matto / The Fool), Aldo Silvani (il signor Giraffa, circus director), Marcella Rovena (la vedova / widow), Lidia Venturini (la suora / nun), Mario Passante (cameriere / waiter), Anna Primula (madre di Gelsomina), Pietro Ceccarelli (oste / bartender), Nazareno Zamperla (Neno), Giovanna Galli (la prostituta all'osteria), Yami Kamedeva (prostituta). Doppiatori originali: Arnoldo Foà (Zampanò), Stefano Sibaldi (il Matto).
    Loc: Bagnoregio, Viterbo, Lazio, Ovindoli, L'Aquila, Abruzzo. The final sequence: the wharf of Fiuminico.
    Helsinki premiere 10.2.1956 Savoy, distributor: Valio-Filmi – VET 43912 – K16 – 3220 m / 104 min, 108 min
    Viewed in a print released by Polfilm with Swedish subtitles by Stig Björkman, with e-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (The Wonderful Actresses of Italy), 9 Aug 2017

In memoriam Aito Mäkinen (who was with Valio-Filmi when it premiered La strada in Finland).

Revisited Federico Fellini's third solo feature film as a director, his breakthrough to the ranks of the masters of world cinema, his personal favourite film, one of the most influential films in history, one of the essential road movies, and a film that for André Bazin belonged to the all too few that belong to the greatest achievements of all art.

When I first wrote about La strada some 40 years ago I was under the spell of Pablo Picasso's Blue Period. Posters of his paintings were hanging on my wall. In fact I was living Picasso's Blue Period. I was struck by the affinity with La strada but not aware of any conscious influence.

Whereas the Charles Chaplin influence is obvious in the characters of Gelsomina and Il Matto and in the unforgettable score by Nino Rota. The contrast between the sublime and the ridiculous is introduced already in the main title music which starts with a passionate arrangement of the main theme, only to be replaced abruptly by a frenetic circus march.

Fellini has revealed that the characters of the story emerged as cartoon figures, like the Big Bad Wolf (Zampanò), Bugs Bunny (Il Matto), and Tweety (Gelsomina). The original Fellini quality is revealed in the tragic force he was able to elicit from caricature. It is one of the paradoxes of the actor that a circus stereotype, a commedia dell'arte figure, a marionette, a puppet or a cartoon character can move us so strongly.

Fellini was known as a neorealist, and his previous film, I vitelloni, was still a neorealist masterpiece. Audiences were confused at first by La strada because the protagonists are anti-realistic. But the world of La strada is still neorealistic in a way that can be compared with Paisà, Roberto Rossellini's "road movie" which Fellini scripted. The sites of the journey are real. They are full of life and haunted by the magic of reality.

The stages of the journey are also haunted by a sense of transcendence, of the holy. La strada belongs to the great spiritual and religious works of art. Not surprisingly, because this dimension, the specifically Francescan approach, had already emerged in Rossellini's Roma città aperta, Paisà and Francesco, giullare di Dio which Fellini co-scripted. And obviously in Il miracolo in which Fellini gave his only performance as an actor. Reportedly La strada is the favourite film of the current Pope, Pope Francis.

La strada takes us to the crossroads of comedy and tragedy. It makes us laugh and cry at the same time. The sense of the absurd is unique. 

It feels redundant to write about a film on which André Bazin has written such a definitive essay. He finishes it with the remark: "Le sel de l'âme que Zampanò verse pour la première fois de sa pauvre vie sur la plage qu'aimait Gelsomina est le même que celui de cette mer infinie qui ne peut plus ici-bas rafraîchir sa douleur."

This interesting re-release print looks like it has been struck from a source that has been carefully manufactured from disparate elements, including ones with very good visual quality. In the beginning there is low contrast but in a refined way preserving the fine soft detail. No scratches. A virtually complete print of the 108 min edit.


Friday, August 04, 2017


FI © 2017 Helsinki-Filmi.
Directed by Zaida Bergroth    
Screenplay: Zaida Bergroth, Jan Forsström – from an original idea by: Kaarina Hazard, Leea Klemola
Produced by Miia Haavisto
Music by Matthias Petsche    
Cinematography by Henri Blomberg ... (as Hena Blomberg)
Film Editing by Samu Heikkilä    
Production Design by Okku Rahikainen    
Costume Design by Tiina Kaukanen    
Marjut Samulin ...  makeup designer
Micke Nyström ...  sound designer
Jan Forsström ...  music supervisor
Krista Kosonen ... Angela
Sonja Kuittinen ... Anna
Alex Anton ... Timi
Juhan Ulfsak ... Eduard
Christian Lindroos ... Jakke
Kristian Smeds     ... Mertsi
Pirkko Hämäläinen ... Junell
Juha Lehtola ... Korhonen
    Released by Nordisk Film on DCP with Swedish subtitles, premiere 4 Aug 2017.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 9, 4 Aug 2017

Zaida Bergroth is one of Finland's most highly regarded film directors known for noteworthy shorts and the features Skavabölen pojat / Last Cowboy Standing and The Good Son. Bergroth's third feature film Miami has opened to excellent reviews and is her best work to date.

Despite the title we never get to Miami. Miami is the dream world of Angela the show dancer, the land of happiness to which she yearns to escape after the dreary treadmill of a working girl in Finland.

Miami the land of the sun is the counter-image to the autumnal Finland in which the sisters' road trip takes place. We move from Southern Finland towards the Eastern border and from there to Lapland and Helsinki. Winter is coming by the end of the story.

Bergroth's forte has always been the direction of actors. She casts exciting actors and encourages them to powerful performances.

The experienced Krista Kosonen is one of Finland's top actors, and the role of Angela gives her an opportunity to create something different and unusual. This is a nuanced, complex and multi-layered performance. Beneath the dazzling surface glitter there is an assured and patient professional, but when we learn to know Angela better we realize the force of her self-destructive urge.

Sonja Kuittinen is a newcomer, and in her first big film role she, too, creates something surprising. From a shy bystander who naively admires her big sister emerges a steel-tempered mastermind of crime.

On one level Miami is the story of the half-sisters Angela and Anna. They come from a broken family, and they try to make sense of each other and their relationship during their rampage across Finland. Key aspects remain ambiguous, but we are left pondering certain disturbing hints such as the remark that their father had separated them when he had observed Angela keeping Anna's head under the water in the bathtub.

On the other hand Miami is a crime drama and a gangster film. Angela has been caught in a spiral of debt with a criminal gang, and although she seems like a professional, she has no business sense and does not realize what it means to have to pay a 20% monthly interest. She is being closely watched by thugs, and violent incidents belong to her daily life. So far she has been able to handle the thugs, but Angela is also an alcoholic, and one night she drives over an ex-gangster and kills him.

It is Anna who takes them to the next level. In cold blood Anna dumps the corpse to a pond. It is Anna who plans and realizes their new criminal business line: taping Angela's sex encounters and blackmailing the victims. In Lapland at the Saariselkä holiday resort the sisters also happen to tape a meeting of Minister Junell (Pirkko Hämäläinen) documenting her illegal collaboration with Eastern powers. Having cashed on this jackpot they finally have the money to break free from everything. Except that now an Eastern criminal organization, more ruthless than the native one, is after them.

The world of prostitution is conveyed elliptically, almost reminding us of the euphemisms of the age of the Production Code. But remarks about Reeperbahn, the TOR network of the deep internet, Imatra and Lappeenranta being key spots, and "private shows" as the major source of income let us know what is being meant.

Miami is a road movie, and for the self-destructive Angela it is a death trip. In the final ruse of the sisters in the hands of the Eastern mafia Angela escapes to the thin ice of the early winter of the Baltic sea, and the thugs fall through the ice into the sea. Anna gets a chance to start a getaway car full of money on her way to Miami while Angela vanishes into the horizon of the winter mist of the sea.

There is a religious current in the movie. Each night Angela reads her personal evening prayer. At Saariselkä she can connect with an Eastern orthodox businessman by opening a conversation on a holy icon. There is a significant sequence at the Temple of the Rock in Helsinki. In one of their show numbers the sisters sport angels' wings, and in the final big caper adventure their camouflages include a revivalist preacher and a burkha-clad Muslim. There is an element of self-deception and escapism in Angela's religion. But also an authentic dimension of transcendence. God exists despite everything.

The soundtrack is mostly relevant to the run-of-the-mill show music of Angela's bar circuit. Some selections are more poignant such as the following two extreme cases. Samantha Fox's "The Best Is Yet To Come" is heard when Angela retreats to drinking in the car at night while Anna is meeting her boyfriend Timi. J. S. Bach's Sonate 1 Es-Dur, BWV 525 is heard at the Temple of the Rock sequence.

I have had reservations about the digital quality of Bergroth's previous movies, but in this Winterreise the autumn colours, the chilly winter scenes, and the glitter of the sisters' shows are impressive and expressive. Hena Blomberg is the ace cinematographer.